My most recent travel mistakes

There are days where I feel like George Clooney’s character in the film “Up in the Air”. Where I get the travel game and am totally prepared for navigating the airport and my travel responsibilities. The scene in the beginning of the movie when he gets to security, and has a “routine” fits me to a T. I may not have his routine, but I have the art down pretty well and my system works well for me.

So let’s step back two weeks. My work computer crashes and I can’t recover the data. Crap, thankfully it’s mostly all backed up remotely and can be restored, but first you have to fix the computer. Since T minus five days form the crash I’m heading on a two week work jaunt to New Zealand and Australia, I needed that computer fixed pronto. My amazing, and I really do mean amazing IT department, suggests the best option would be to send it to the office to fix, send me a temporary replacement, restore my replacement via the back up and while I’m out saving the world fix my computer. Sounds like a great idea, and would give me the least amount of downtime, even if my spare was not 100% restored to my computer. Ok now what does a crashed computer have to do with travel, or in my case “Up in the Air”, well not much really, but I think that caused a chain of events that I’m still trying to figure out, and recover from.

First off 95% if not more of my business travel is domestic or to Canada (is that even a country) Eah? Not until June 2012 did I start making the much longer treks to the Southern Hemisphere for work, and soon enough those trips will be over and it’ll be back to all the domestic stuff again. I say this, because for 10 years I have a routine, I know what to pack for work, I put stuff in the same place in my bag each week, and I know what accessories I need to have with me power cables, adaptors, headphones, extra batteries etc. Life is good, I have the business of getting my suitcase packed down to a science, and can be done in 10 minutes for a 5 night trip. But now look at what needs to happen when you go international, it’s like throwing my stuff in the laundry and watching it spin. Yes I do travel a lot, and yes I do travel internationally a lot for pleasure each year, but now I have to actually think about what I need, and I that’s what screwed me up this time.

So what makes packing for this kind of trip different, what possibly could I need that would make it that much harder. Well it’s simple, I need power adaptors, splitters, my phone plan set up, foreign currency, US bills needed in a pinch, ATM card or at least a PIN friendly credit card for cash advances, VOIP headset, and oh yeah plane tickets (I’ll get to that in a minute). So here’s how it went down and what caused me to write this up. The first week in Auckland was fine mostly. I apparently lost two of my power converters between trips, and one of my spares is so janky I couldn’t use it. When you have three phones, a computer, an iPad and CPAP machine that need juice having 2 power converters is a little light. Now I don’t need to charge all of these at once, but you get the idea six items two converters and an extra 3 prong splitter, and you’re juggling constantly. Why am I so important to have three phones, well I’m not. I have a personal one and a work one, that’s normal. But I also have an unlocked one that I only use down here, that I can swap the chip out of and get local calls and such at local rates, it’s a much cheaper way to call locally and also internationally when abroad. Unless I want to go through the expense of jail breaking my personal phone, or asking my employer to replace my Galaxy 2 with a non CDMA phone, this is the dance I have to make. Until this trip the US work phone was only used for checking voicemail and for some calls back home I need to make in a pinch, but this trip I got hosed. Sometime between trips CDMA became obsolete in these two places and I flat out can’t use it. So even having it with me turned out to be a waste. Lesson learned find out about your phone before a trip abroad, although in my defense it worked in October. Next time, bring more adaptors, and bring a better three prong splitter. UUGH it just makes it a total pain to power any device.

So what else could I have done wrong, well the next stupid thing I did was leave my computer power cord at my clients office Friday night and didn’t realize it till five hours later, when I was 1500 miles away. OOPS. This caused all sorts of problems, I was no longer in a place where I could run to the store and get one, and the earliest I’d be able to get the one from New Zealand sent to me was Tuesday, and that would not work. So I had to spend my weekend trying to find one and juggle work commitments over the weekend without my computer. That would normally not be an issue, but when you need your computer to conduct seminars and grab data that’s only on the computer it really caused me trouble. Thankfully buy Sunday afternoon, I was able to find a replacement power cord, for an arm and a leg, but at least I was back in business. To think at home I have like four power cords, and have NEVER done this before, but to leave my cord plus an adaptor at a client’s office and not be able to contact anyone there to send it to me till Monday would have ruined my week, and to have my wife FedEx me a replacement and “temporarily” borrow one from a store so I could work was one heck of a juggling act. Anyhow it finally got sorted, but the heartburn it created was not anything I was needing at the moment.

Earlier in the diatribe I mentioned how I needed a plane ticket, well that’s a funny story too. In between weeks in New Zealand and Australia I decided to spend the weekend in Fiji (the trip will be a future post so check back soon). Since it’s only three hours from Auckland and four from Sydney I thought I’d take a chance that I’d enjoy it. My wife was cursing me the whole time, since she was stuck at home, but I had to be somewhere and Fiji was cheaper than the other two cities I would be in go figure. Anyhow, let’s get back to my ticket dilemma. Initially I had purchased mileage tickets using American Airlines miles on their partner Air Pacific Limited, it was an ok deal 40k miles in coach, where a roundtrip ticket was well over $600. I would rather save the miles for a better flight experience, but I’d also like to save myself $600. So mileage ticket it is. Well the day of departure the one way ticket to Fiji had dropped to under $200 and for me to save half the air miles was worth it. For a comparison I can fly roundtrip in coach anywhere in the Continental US for 25k miles, so I think spending the cash in this case was worth it. My wife was awesome, she was able to cancel my ticket book my purchased ticket and made sure all was ok for my return from Fiji to Sydney, since I was not cancelling that part of the trip. Ordinarily this is an easy proposition, and should take minutes with the airlines, and I’d take care of it myself to boot. But in this case, I was stuck paying a long distance charge and having to make multiple calls, having the “boss” help me out was huge. So fast forward to my return journey, I get to Nadi Airport 2 hours prior to departure, the hotel recommended three. My flight was at 9 am, and I was 45 minutes from the airport, how early did I really need to get there. So I took a risk. I get to the airport, check in for the flight and the agent says you don’t have a ticket it was cancelled. I’m dumbfounded, stunned I have a look of horror on my face. All I can think of is now what, I have to be in Sydney tomorrow to work, I must leave Fiji today. She says let’s see what we can do, and takes my passport and ticket to a hole somewhere in the airport. I wait, and wait and wait. Now because of my phone issues, I only have one option, use the jail braked phone, that has no Fiji chip, but does have an NZ chip with limited minutes on it, and somehow get AA to help me. Or pray she can work it out. It turns out the airport had Wi-Fi, I go online and find out AA had cancelled my whole trip and refunded the miles (thanks AA). I’m still sorting out that mess. I then figure out what a one way ticket home will cost, thankfully it’s $300, not cheap but what can you do. I finally start to panic, I know I can buy a ticket but I need my passport, and the lady has not come back yet. I take a deep breath and just wait. It seemed like hours, but it must have been 10 minutes. She walks me over to the customer service counter and says I need to buy a ticket. Well what else can you do now. So that’s what I do, but then that’s where life gets interesting again. They try to run my credit card three times, and discover their only credit card machine isn’t working. She says she can take US funds. Great. So I fork over my cash, but wait I only have $200 US and need $300. Can you take Australian or Kiwi money, sure but only the full amount. I don’t have it, I’m short even more the $200. Is there an ATM, yes there is, OK I’ll be back. The ATM will only let me take out $200 Fijian from my BofA ATM card, I need like $600. I forgot my only credit card with a pin number at home so now what. Exasperated I go back up to the agent and ask what she can do, she was super cool and understood I was really in a pinch. She ended up taking my $200 US, $200 Fijian and $15 Australian, it was a total gong show. But I had a ticket and now I could check into the flight. Once that was done I was off to security, what seemed like an eternity was all totaled 1:15 so I still had 45 minutes to spare, not too bad. But I guess the hotel was right. The only silver lining I can come up with is, that I never lost my cool, and never got mad at the airline staff, they were just doing their job, and didn’t do anything wrong. The baggage attendant that initially took my passport and helped me out after I had my ticket, said I was the friendliest American she had ever met. Now that did make me feel good, but also sad since that means there’s a lot of unfriendly ones out there giving us a bad reputation, but at least I was able to prove that we can be nice too.

As you can see even the frequent traveler can make a mistake once in a while or a bunch of them like I did. The only thing you can do is take them in stride recover and move on. If you get mad or angry more than likely you’ll never recover and look like a jerk too. I just now know to make sure I confirm my plane tickets, make sure I have a PIN ATM card with me that has a higher cash limit and oodles of power cords. I guess these mishaps just proved I’m not George Clooney.

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